After an exchange between squeegee workers and a Baltimore motorist turned deadly the previous day, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said Friday he will increase police presence at intersections, arrest those who damage cars and connect squeegee youth to jobs.
“To the young people who are out on those corners, I want you to know I understand why you are out there. But we don’t want you to be. I don’t want you to be,” the Democrat said at a Friday morning news conference. “I want you to take advantage of every resource that we are offering you to get off of those corners.”
According to witnesses and police, 48-year-old Timothy Reynolds of Hampden was fatally shot on Thursday after a confrontation with squeegee workers near the Inner Harbor. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Reynolds drove through the intersection of Light and Conway streets, parked, got out of his car with a bat and began swinging at one or more of the squeegee workers. In response, one of the workers shot and fatally wounded him. The shooter ran away; Harrison said the investigation remains ongoing.
Harrison said he is creating an enhanced patrol strategy to increase officer presence at each intersection where squeegee youth operate. “Anyone committing any crimes of damage to vehicles, or assaults to motorists and any other criminal violations, we will be there to make those arrests,” he said.
Scott said the city will also send staff from the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement, which is tasked with identifying the needs of and supporting young Black men, to squeegee intersections.
Squeegee kids — predominantly low-income Black youth who clean the windshields of cars stopped at red lights at busy intersections in hopes of earning cash tips from drivers — have been a perennial issue in Baltimore for decades. City business leaders have argued their activities are dangerous to both the workers and motorists and that they deter tourism, while others insist the youth are not combative and describe their attempts to contribute cash to their households as entrepreneurial.
Faith Leach is the deputy mayor of equity, health and human services and the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, which oversees the city’s squeegee youth programs. She has said the youth are often among Baltimore’s poorest and turn to squeegeeing because it allows them to earn cash they can immediately give to their families for basics such as rent, groceries and diapers.
Scott announced an action plan in the fall of last year to connect squeegee youth to economic opportunities and social services. It sought to reconnect squeegee minors to school and employ those over the age of 18. On Friday, Leach said the program has so far connected 42 youth at partner organizations including the Revival Hotel, Amazon and the Department of Public Works. She said the city also hired 24 young people to assist the Downtown Partnership in hosting the CIAA basketball tournament in February; the workers were paid immediately after their shifts.
“We were piloting this idea of a same-day pay model, and we saw some really amazing results from that work,” she said. “We all have to be disruptive and collaborative to really address the needs of our young people. They are out on those corners because they are out there meeting many of their basic unmet needs.”
Several Baltimore leaders who represent parts of the city where squeegee workers typically work intersections did not respond to The Banner’s requests for comment on Friday. Phone calls to Councilwoman Danielle McCray, Councilman Antonio Glover and Councilman Eric Costello were not returned. Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, which represents businesses in the harbor area, also did not respond to requests for comment.
Councilman Zeke Cohen said he’s hopeful Thursday’s tragic shooting will force a “soul searching” moment for the city.
The councilman, who represents the harbor district encompassing Fells Point and Canton, sent an open letter to the deputy mayor on Friday afternoon calling for the city to “leverage every tool” at its disposal to ensure more support systems and more enforcement and put an end to squeegee work on the Baltimore streets.
Business interests and city entities must convene to find opportunities for Baltimore youth so that “every child who wants a living wage job can get one” and get paid quickly, Cohen wrote in the letter. And while he said he wasn’t calling for arrests, a joint effort between trusted messengers and law enforcement should make clear to residents that they can’t dart in and out of busy intersections cleaning cars.
“Enforcement must take place,” Cohen wrote. “The message must be clear that we will do everything within our power to get our children into meaningful employment, but squeegeeing cannot continue.”
The Greater Baltimore Committee, a regional group representing businesses, nonprofits and other civic institutions, agreed that the situation must change.
“The GBC is committed to continuing our efforts to work with city officials, business and community leaders,” board chairman Calvin Butler said in a statement, “to help those who want to work find family-sustaining jobs that keep them safe from the risks of street work — and our public spaces safer from gun violence.”
U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume represents West Baltimore in Congress and dealt with with the emergence of squeegee workers as a City Council member in the 1980s. Mfume said he was sickened by Thursday’s shooting and stressed the consequences to public safety if the city doesn’t find ways to clear squeegee workers, panhandlers and prostitutes from street corners.
“The issue here is whether or not children are going to dictate the rules that adults have to live under, or whether there’s going to be a meeting of the minds here,” Mfume said.
Mfume recounted being accosted by squeegee workers on multiple occasions and said many in their number today are “a completely different group” from when he was a city official.
At the time, Mfume said the city council was able to pass legislation to get squeegee workers, panhandlers and prostitutes off the streets. The bill was initially opposed by all Black members of the council, he said, but ultimately found overwhelming support after it was re-geared to focus on support and reform, not criminalization.
“I feel like in many respects I’ve seen this debate come full circle,” the Democrat said. “I know that something needs to be done. We can’t kick the can down the road.”
New details emerged Friday about what lead up to the deadly confrontation.
Police had been called to the area near the corner of Light and Conway streets at least three times on Thursday.
At 12:05 p.m. a woman reported that she watched a man in front of her — later identified as state Sen. Antonio Hayes, D-Baltimore — get assaulted, according to a police narrative obtained by The Baltimore Banner.
Hayes reported he asked a group of young men to get out of the street and one of the youths got angry and threw a water bottle into the vehicle, hitting Hayes in the head. He told law enforcement that he was not hurt.
About two hours later police returned after a man reported a squeegee worker damaged his vehicle. After a confrontation, the squeegee worker pulled out a gun, police said. Police later arrested an 18-year-old man and seized a BB gun.
The victim’s father Carroll Reynolds told the Baltimore Sun that he was watching his grandson play baseball in Howard County on Thursday evening and didn’t know what had befallen his son until hours after the confrontation.
Carroll Reynolds wondered why his son confronted the squeegee workers.
“He should have just kept driving,” he told the newspaper.
On Thursday afternoon, before the shooting, the city hosted an event for squeegee workers that included free haircuts, interview preparations and resume assistance to prepare for a Friday job fair at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Scott said the city will hire 40 youth on the spot for jobs at DPW, the Department of Transportation and other city partners.
Davion Hodges, 22, was among a group of young men at the job fair.
Hodges said he used to squeegee on Baltimore streets for about a year or two when he was around 13. He now works at the Revival Hotel, a job he got through the city. He said he had heard about Thursday’s deadly confrontation and called it “shocking.”
”I feel as though it was wrong. It could have been prevented,” he said. “But if you young, you out there and you don’t know what’s going on, you just trying to protect yourself.”
Still others expressed concerns in the wake of the shooting that the incident will turn public sentiments against vulnerable squeegee workers.
Mount Washington resident Gabe Auteri drove by the Light and Conway intersection on Thursday afternoon and saw Reynolds in the street with the baseball bat. He was disturbed enough by what he saw that he dialed 911, just minutes before the shooting occurred. Auteri feared Reynolds would make the next move.
Though Auteri stressed that the encounter was tragic and that he doesn’t blame Reynolds for what happened, he cautioned against a conversation that focuses on the shooting and not on the entrenched poverty that has left squeegee workers on the streets.
“The reason why we’re all here in this position is because there’s a lot of problems that we’ve failed to address,” he said.
Roberta Abrahams, 85, has lived in an assisted living facility on Light Street for the past 20 years. She says she encounters the same squeegee kids at the intersection of Light and Conway streets whenever she goes to and from her doctor visits.
She understands how angry drivers can get when they come in contact with the squeegee kids.
”Every time I stop at that busy corner, they always harass me or I see them harass other people,” Abrahams said. ”It’s against my better judgement to pay them, but the city needs to find a way to raise money for them because standing on the street like that is not safe for them or the drivers.”
Dylan Segelbaum, Penelope Blackwell and Cadence Quaranta contributed to this report.
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